December 18, 2013



Is another Chicago black Democratic congressman about to fall from grace? In the South Side 1st U.S. House District, long the redoubt of the iconic Bobby Rush, the proverbial fat lady has begun to sing.

Rush, who was first elected in 1992, seems to be following in the footsteps of his disgraced and jailed colleague, Jesse Jackson Jr. An investigation released by the Better Government Association Rush paid his wife a $404,000 salary with campaign funds, operated his campaign office rent-free and donated $196,000 in campaign cash to his church, and was unable to explain where $1 million for his high tech training center has gone.

Like Jackson, Rush has decided to take a "leave of absence" from his congressional duties to care for his ailing wife. Rush himself has had salivary gland cancer surgery in 2008.

Rush, age 67, caught a break: He is unopposed for renomination in the March 18 primary. After pondering a challenge and circulating nominating petitions, Alderman Howard Brookins (20th) failed to file for the post.

Ironically, that was a wise decision by Brookins. As one South Side black politician remarked, "Bobby's still quite popular, and people sympathize with his personal problems. His legal issues may change that perception. Howard really wants to be congressman. If he had run, he would have made enemies of all of Bobby's friends, and if he'd lost, he would have been an outcast. Now Howard's at the head of the line, and every committeeman will support him when Bobby leaves."

That may be sooner rather than later, especially if the FBI and the House Ethics Committee begin building a case for campaign finance violations. Using campaign funds to enhance one's lifestyle is an indictable offense.

According to most recent campaign disclosure filings, Rush, who is a senior Democrat on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, raised $157,901 during 2013. That would be a puny sum should legal fees begin to mushroom. Rush raised $498,765 during 2011-12.

The Democrats don't need another scandal. As with Jackson, it takes about 3 years from the beginning of an investigation to a trial, and the House will have first crack at Rush. If the situation worsens, pressure will be intense on Rush to resign his nomination, allowing Brookins to be named his replacement.

It is common legal strategy for an embattled office holder to cling to the job in order to have a bargaining chip during the plea-bargaining stage. Rush won with 74 percent of the vote in the 2012 election. His re-election in November of 2014 is a certainty, so he could occupy his seat until January of 2017. In Jackson's case, the feds held off his and his wife's indictments until the plea bargain was almost completed. That enabled Jackson to win in 2012 while under investigation, not under indictment.

The prospects of two other contenders, Alderman Will Burns (5th) and state Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13), are limited to the 2016 primary or to a special election, it Rush were to quit. If he resigned his nomination prior to Sept. 1, 2014, the district's Democratic committeeman, most of whom are black, would pick the new nominee. Brookins is a committeeman.

Here's a look at other developing contests for Congress:

Four Democrats, all elected in 2012, are in varying degrees of jeopardy: Brad Schneider (D-10) of Deerfield, Cheri Bustos (D-17) of East Moline, Bill Foster (D-11) of Naperville and Bill Enyart (D-12) of Belleville. One Republican is threatened: Rod Davis (R-13) of Taylorville, who faces both primary and election challenges.

Fund-raising is an accurate measure of political viability. If a candidate cannot raise significant campaign cash early, he or she won't have the resources to be competitive and will not get the critical dollars later from national party committees and special interest political action committees.

The goal of politicians is to raise 20 to 25 percent of what will be needed in the election year during the prior year.

10th District: Schneider defeated incumbent Republican Bob Dold in 2012 in the upscale North Shore/East Lake County district by 133,890-130,564, getting 50.6 percent of the vote and winning by a margin of 3,326 votes. Dold raised $4,569,085 for that contest, of which $1,381,764 came from PACs, while Schneider raised $3,043,849, of which $470,132 came from PACs. The bulk of Schneider's money came from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The Democrats remapped the district in 2011 to excise Republican areas such as Palatine, adding Waukegan and North Chicago. Obama won the district 157,400-112,552, meaning that Schneider ran 23,510 votes behind the president and Dold ran 18,012 votes ahead of Mitt Romney.

Romney's 44,848-vote loss was too much for Dold to overcome.

That could change in 2014, when turnout will plunge by 15 to 20 percent, with fewer 2012 Obama voters casting a ballot. Dold is seeking a rematch, he raised an impressive $317,800 in the third quarter of 2013, and he had $819,200 in cash on hand. Schneider raised $365,500, and he had $768,900 on hand. Schneider's position on the Foreign Affairs Committee means that he can raise significant money from Jewish and pro-Israel sources.

17th District: Bustos defeated Republican incumbent Bobby Schilling in 2012 by 153,519-134,623. The Rock Island-centered district was remapped to eliminate Decatur and Republican-leaning Quincy and add Rockford. Schilling raised $2,537,300, with $999,606 from PACs, while Bustos raised $2,212,530, with $542,573 from PACs.

As in the 10th District, Obama's coattails boosted Bustos; the president won 166,796-119,789, running 13,277 votes ahead of Bustos. Bustos raised $304,700 in the third quarter, and she had $612,600 on hand. Schilling raised $170,900, and he had $163,500 on hand. Bustos serves on the Agriculture and Transportation committees, which enhances her corporate donor base. If Schilling is to be competitive, he needs to step up his fund-raising and hope for a huge anti-Obama, anti-Democratic, anti-Quinn "wave." It happened in 2010.

11th District: Foster's track record is spotty. He won a 2008 special election but then lost in 2010. In 2011 the Democrats created a new Naperville-Joliet-Aurora district, removing most of southeast DuPage County. He faced 14-year incumbent Judy Biggert, who spent $2,909,766, with a huge total of $1,484,792 from pro-business PACs, while Foster raised $3,460,892. The bulk of the money was spent on television ads.

The result wasn't even close, and Biggert was one of the nation's worst beaten incumbents. Foster triumphed 148,928-105,348, getting 58.6 percent of the vote and running only slightly behind the president, who won the district 151,825-106,532. That outcome indicates a straight-ticket propensity. Foster backed "Obamacare" while he was in Congress in 2010, and he has been a reliable Democratic vote. He serves on the key Financial Services Committee, which aids his fund-raising from the banking and insurance industries.

Foster grossed $311,300 in the third quarter of 2013, and he had $590,900 on hand. Two Republicans will battle in the primary. State Representative Darlene Senger of Naperville is the Washington insiders' choice, but her fund-raising has been sluggish -- just $77,600 in the third quarter, with $95,800 on hand. She faces Chris Belkema, who raised $24,800. Only a huge anti-Obama wave can beat Foster.

12th District: The Southwest Illinois district has been held by a Democrat since the 1940s. In 2012 the Republicans had great expectations for Jason Plummer, a member of a prominent Downstate lumberyard-owning family and a 2010 candidate for lieutenant governor. The Democrats nominated Enyart, a lawyer and a military officer. Plummer raised $1,350,428, with $636,142 from business PACs, while Enyart raised $1,180,463, with $400,155 from labor PACs.

The result wasn't even close. Enyart won 157,000-129,902, getting 51.7 percent of the vote, with 5.6 percent going to a Green Party candidate. Indicative of the district's conservative bent was the fact that Obama won 153,715-149,165, getting barely half the vote. Republican strategists have concluded that their 2012 problem was Plummer, not an Obama trend. They have recruited Mike Bost, a state representative from Murphysboro since 1995. Enyart's base is in Saint Clair County, which includes East Saint Louis.

Fund-raising has not augured well for either contender, with Enyart raising $167,000 (with $288,900 on hand) and Bost raising $78,200 (with $43,700 on hand). Republican strategists deem Bost to be their best bet for an upset, since television time is cheap in the local media market and they can frame the race as a referendum on an increasingly unpopular Obama.

13th District: Davis was the 2012 beneficiary of a Chicago-style switcheroo. Incumbent Republican Tim Johnson abruptly decided in mid-summer that he wanted to leave Congress and resigned his nomination. The Democrats had nominated a sacrificial candidate, David Gill. Davis, an aide to a congressman in another district, was picked by the local Republican county chairmen to be the replacement.

As in Chicago, voters were less than elated. To hold the seat, national Republicans poured in big money. Davis raised $1,400,451 (of which $645,798 came from PACs), and national Democrats did likewise for Gill, who raised $1,325,027, and $285,456 from PACs. The result was a 137,034-136,032 Davis win, a margin of 1,002 votes.

Davis serves on the Agriculture and Transportation committees, which should aid his fund-raising. Davis raised $302,100 in the third quarter, with $882,100 on hand. The two Democratic aspirants, former Saint Clair County judge Ann Callis and scientist George Gollin, nearly equaled his take. Callis, of Edwardsville, the party favorite, raised $240,900 (with $370,200 on hand), and Gollin, of Champaign, raised $300,500, most self-funded, with $262,100 on hand. Geography and ideology are key.

Davis faces Erika Harold, the 2003 Miss America and a Harvard University law graduate, who raised $72,600 and had $99,200 on hand. After winning her crown, Harold proclaimed that her reign would be dedicated to advocating sexual abstinence prior to marriage. Harold will be the Tea Party faction candidate, and she likely will blast Davis as a puppet of Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

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